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Voice From The Back

Confidence trick
The confidence gap between rich and poor households last month was the largest since June 1995, when records were first collected. Nearly half the households with an annual income of more than £25,000 believe that things can only get better, compared with only one in five of those on £7,000 or less who are optimistic about future finances. "The widening gap between rich and poor suggests the emergence of two nations," said research consultancy GfK, which undertook the survey for the European Commission. The survey shows that the pessimism of low earners is based on bitter experience. While 44 percent of those in the top income bracket have become better off over the past year, 37 percent of those on the lowest incomes have seen their finances deteriorate. Guardian, 30 September.

Divided and ruled
Average wealth has climbed during the 1980s but distribution has grown more unequal, and the number of people with no savings at all has climbed. Nearly 30 percent of all Britons have no savings or investment outside their home and pension, and around 10 percent have no savings at all, according to a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Most of this 10th consists of single parents and out-of-work couples. Half the population has less than £750 in liquid savings; up from a figure of £455 in 1991/92 . . . However, average wealth of £7,136 compares with this median of £750, indicating that the distribution is very uneven. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that for the wealthiest 10th of the population, the average level of investments amounts to £50,000, and only the wealthiest quarter achieve an average level of more than £5,000. Independent Digital, 22 October.

Poverty kills
They are new, they are powerful, but they will not be for us. A new generation of drugs is bringing the cure for some types of cancer out of the realms of science fantasy, but limited NHS budgets means that they will be available only for the rich who go private. The most recent generation of drugs has improved the chances of survival for many types of cancer, but rationing is already taking place. Taxol for ovarian cancer, Taxotere for breast cancer, and Irinotecan for bowel cancer have all proved effective, but at between £3,000 and £5,000 for a course they are 10 times the price of previously used drugs. Some health authorities refuse to prescribe them on cost grounds. Observer, 24 October.

Good night?
The Future Foundation, a consumer think-tank, defines the 24-hour society as a term used not only literally to refer to 24-hour access to goods and services, but also as a metaphor for extended hours—the process by which services are starting to open beyond their normal daytime hours . . . But what about the people who have to work these anti-social hours? Currently, more than one million out of a total working population of 27 million are still at work between 9pm and 11pm. More than 300,000 are at work between 2am and 5am and the Future Foundation estimates that these figures will double by 2007. Guardian, 2 October.

Cheer up!
Depression has reached epidemic levels worldwide and in 20 years will account for a greater health burden than any other condition apart from heart disease, an international conference heard. In the UK alone, estimates show that depression already costs the economy £2 billion a year, experts attending the meeting of the Royal Society of Medicine were told. Evening Mail, 27 October.

It's God's work
The Church of England yesterday defended the "operating costs" of its diocesan bishops after a leaked report showed that some spent more on their chauffeurs than the average vicar earns in a year. Dr William Beaver, director of communications for the Church, said: "Some bishops have a huge geographical spread to cover. Their car costs are going to be higher than someone who could get around otherwise. We run on three maxims—efficiency, economy and effectiveness. With bishops' engagements as heavy as they are, they may need to work while they are in their cars and hence the need for a driver." There are 42 diocesan bishops and, of these, all but nine had chauffeurs, with one bishop spending nearly £20,000 on this service alone . . . One bishop claimed more than £200 a week in hospitality, or more than £11,000 a year, while another claimed a mere £1,629. The highest spending bishop claimed a total of £138,713 in one year, while the lowest claimed back just £34,745 from the church. Times, 11 October.

"Don't just deal in valuable commodities. Become one"
Job advert by The Royal Bank of Scotland. Times, 11 October.